Andy Lavelle shares how he keeps his practice growing and working towards the vision with the support of Practice Plan.

Running your own practice presents lots of exciting opportunities, but what goes hand in hand with that is also being faced with new challenges. One of the key things I learned early on was the benefit of having the support of an external partner to maximise these possibilities and tackle any obstacles.

I have been the practice manager of Castle Way Dental Care for seven years, and my wife Nicky is the principal dentist. From the moment we took over, the partner helping to steer our business has been Josie Hutchings, our regional support manager at Practice Plan.

Josie provides something unique to the business that neither Nicky or I can give – an external view, and this should not be underestimated. When you are busy running a dental practice, it is unavoidable that you will become enmeshed in the day-to-day tasks. However, the downside to this is that you can lose sight of the bigger picture and struggle to see solutions to issues, or the way forward.

Having a third party who can come to the situation from the outside often gives us a fresh perspective and a new way of looking at things. That can be a completely new way of doing something or just slightly tweaking something we are already doing, but it means we are always refining our processes to ensure we’re working effectively and providing the best service to patients.

That is really invaluable, and because Josie visits lots of practices, she has a wealth of knowledge about the different ways other people are tackling the same issues, such as HR issues, improving the patient experience, etc. So, she can often provide reassurance that we are doing the right thing because she’s witnessed similar situations and knows that it works.

Alternatively, she is able to act almost as a devil’s advocate and help us to stress-test an approach we’re considering. Both of these things mean we can be completely confident in the steps we are taking and we know that we are heading in the right direction to continue growing our business and fulfilling our vision.

Building connections

Keeping us on track to make sure we’re always working towards our vision, or checking if we need to revisit it, is also a key support we get from the relationship. For example, five years after becoming practice owners we were looking at ways to move the business forward, so Josie helped us to begin forming priorities and identifying the actions we needed to take. It’s like having access to continual professional development from a specialist consultant.

In addition, she also helps us to build connections with other practices in the area through events such as regular practice managers’ meetings. If we have a specific issue she can also put us in contact with another practice who has faced the same thing. This can be especially useful for Nicky because, as we are a single-handed practice, she is able to access peer support that isn’t available within our team.

The support we get feels like it’s 24/7 – Josie is always willing to help and come to see us or speak on the phone. This has been crucial, especially at the start when we knew very little about running a practice, and her encouragement and knowledge helped us to build the business up.

It was daunting in the beginning but Josie helped us to see the opportunities and how we could develop the practice in the way we wanted. She made the learning curve much more enjoyable, and whilst all the challenges were still there, it felt much less overwhelming because we knew we were driving it in the right direction.

And it’s almost exactly the same today; we now have more experience, but we still need, and have, the constant back-up of Josie to ensure we’re moving forwards and building a thriving practice.


Practice Plan is a specialist provider of practice-branded patient membership plans. It partners with over 1,500 dental practices and offers a wide range of business support services. For more information call 01691 684 165 or visit building.practiceplan.co.uk.